Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Media watch

How doctors can get behind the headlines

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 22 March 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:613
  1. Ben Goldacre, doctor and writer, London (

    With real evidence, we are all better placed to communicate the truth behind the news

    Few things can make a doctor's heart sink more in clinic than a patient brandishing a newspaper clipping. Alongside the best efforts to empower patients, misleading information conveyed with hyperbole is paradoxically disempowering; and it's fair to say that the media don't have an absolutely brilliant track record in faithfully reporting medical news.

    But time and thought has gone into this act. The article has been read, and understood, it has been cut out and stored, and then remembered; before the appointment it has been reread, folded up, and brought in to you. This is a piece of paper that deserves to be taken seriously.

    Only those who have never met the full range of people in their community will ever claim that the public are stupid: in most doctors' experience, people are almost universally sharp witted. Where they are misled, someone has worked hard at the job.

    The bigger examples, such as MMR, are clear …

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